Catching up with UF volleyball: Gators win SEC, clinch NCAA tournament berth, hosting rights

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports

While most of us were away celebrating Thanksgiving, the 12th-ranked Florida Gators' volleyball team was out piecing together a wildly successful week that saw it claim a piece of the SEC championship, while three of Mary Wise's players took home season conference honors. 

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All of that helped seal Florida's postseason fate, which was revealed Sunday night in the NCAA volleyball selection show. 

Gators earn No. 3 seed, set to host in NCAA tournament

After earning the SEC's automatic bid, Wise and the Gators knew they were going dancing, but they didn't know who they'd see in the first round or where they'd be playing. 

However, after Sunday night's selection show, the Gators learned they grabbed the No. 3 seed in the top right region of the bracket, which is topped by the No. 1 seeded Wisconsin Badgers, who were stunned by the Gators on Sept. 16. 

Florida draws Florida A&M in Friday's first-round match. 

Joining the Gators and Rattlers in Gainesville will be No. 6 Iowa State and Florida Gulf Coast. 

Gators sweep Ole Miss, share SEC crown with Kentucky

Because Florida split its series with No. 16 Kentucky on Nov. 20, the Gators missed their opportunity to win the SEC championship outright. Instead, they and the Wildcats, who had the same conference record, would have to finish out the regular season to see who would be crowned conference champs. 

Kentucky would finish its regular season first with a pair of wins over South Carolina, which meant the Wildcats would at least finish with a piece of the SEC title. 

Meanwhile, in Oxford, Miss., the Gators found themselves in a five-set barn burner with the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday. A win Saturday would clinch a piece of the conference title, while a loss would grant Kentucky lone possession. 

Fortunately for Florida, four different Gators recorded double-digit kills, lifting Florida to its 25th SEC title. 

"Could not have scripted it any better. To win the SEC, we once again had to beat a team back-to-back and do so on the road," Wise said. "Such a great moment for this team."

Marina Markova (18 kills), Sofia Victoria (13 kills), Merritt Beason (13 kills) and Gabbi Essix (12 kills) each had big nights for the Gators, who also tallied 12 blocks and five aces in the win. 

The conference's tie-break rules granted Florida the SEC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. 

Alexis Stucky named SEC Freshman of the Year, two others make All-SEC 

For the sixth time in program history, SEC's Freshman of the Year hails from the University of Florida. Stucky, a Laramie, Wyo. native, became the first Florida rookie since Rhamat Alhassan in 2014 to earn the honor. 

In her first year at UF, Stucky was named SEC Freshman of the Week five times, while tallying 1,083 assists . 

Florida's freshman setter also has helped at the service line, tallying 28 aces through 48 matches. Defensively, Stucky has added 61 blocks and 187 digs. 

Joining Stucky as SEC honorees were Markova and Beason.

Markova joined the Gators after spending the first three seasons of her college career at Syracuse. Since coming to Gainesville, Markova leads Florida in kills with 320, while also tallying 68 blocks. 

On Markova's heels is Beason, a Florida sophomore who has quickly ascended as one of the Gators' leaders. 

This season, Beason has tallied 317 kills as Florida's right side hitter, while adding 85 blocks, 176 digs and 34 aces.